Sunday, November 29, 2009

Afghanistan Surge - Do You Know Why the President Said Yes?

Here’s what we’ll be wondering as we watch President Obama announce his decision on Tuesday to send additional troops to Afghanistan:
  • Why couldn’t he say no to the Generals?
  • Was he afraid of another fight with Republicans?
  • Does this doom his domestic agenda?
  • Do anti-war Democrats matter?
  • Is this another Vietnam?
  • How many will die?
  • Is Obama a one-term president?
  • What if it works?
Was the president intimidated by military strategists and conservative bullies?  Is he making an independent judgment regarding what’s best for our country?

Or both?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Republicans Block Labor Board Pick Craig Becker

The recent approval by the Senate of David Hamilton to the U.S. Court of Appeals focused attention on the fact that President Obama has made only 27 appointments to fill approximately 100 vacancies on the federal bench, out of which only ten (including Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court) have been confirmed.

Among non-judicial presidential appointments - cabinet departments, agencies, commissions and the like - there are currently at least 500 positions to fill.

While many of these are moving through the system, some key appointments are being stalled in the Senate by Republicans using a parliamentary provision allowing one member to put a “hold” on a nominee. A filibuster-ending cloture vote could be required to bring that nomination to the floor.

Of particular interest is an appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency which decides important and sometimes precedent-setting cases involving union organizing, representation and bargaining.

Obama’s choice of Craig Becker - a former associate council to SEIU and the AFL-CIO - has aroused conservatives, who accuse Becker of being a “forced unionism extremist” with an agenda to impose labor law reform.

It’s uncertain how and when Democrats will try to end the “hold” Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) has placed on the Becker nomination.

Even without Becker, Democratic appointees will soon control the NLRB. The question is whether the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are willing to fight to save this pro-union appointment.

It’s very unlikely that the NLRB - with or without Becker - would attempt to exert regulatory authority to institute significant labor law reform. The Labor Movement’s top legislative priority, making union organizing easier through “card check” elections, does not have the 60 vote super-majority in the Senate to pass.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Impossibilities of the Obama Presidency

Am I the only one who doesn’t know where Obama went wrong and what he should have done differently?

Obviously, many thoughtful writers, pundits and advocates try not to be presumptuous. But, in this media-saturated universe, who’s going to pay attention to you unless you can come up with an original idea?

That’s one reason that there’s virtually no breathing room in the political debate. Everything is instantly dissected and then subject to competition....Look over here!

There’s something very pluralistic and democratic about all this - everybody gets into the act - but it enfeebles the political process in ways we don’t yet fully understand.

This is certainly true regarding what we think about - and what we think we know about - President Barack Obama.

The Left thinks he’s governing Right and the Right think he’s governing Left. And, of course, even that’s not entirely accurate.

Lately, I have to work harder than ever to keep my progressive colleagues from getting demoralized and depressed. This is an interesting time in history, I tell them. It’s a complicated country. Obama’s still young. Health reform will pass. The economy will turn around.

I’m exhausted.

My friends on the Left really want to slap me around when I defend conservatives and confide that - even though I’m not one - I can enjoy, learn from and respect conservative ideas and people.

So here’s my two cents about our president:

This guy is basically progressive but clearly has some conservative impulses - look at his bio - which have been sharpened since he took office.

We see this kind of behavior all the time when reform-minded people take on big jobs - in business, nonprofits, unions, colleges. Facing enormous challenges in a very entrenched setting, you tend to hunker down, look at what’s in front of you and start to manage your circumstances one step at a time.

You learn as you go.

Obama, like most of us, was - and is - conciliatory, accommodating and compromising. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Those Darn Republicans...

At least some of us thought that Obama’s election would bring a respite in the culture wars and a degree of healing to the bitterly divided electorate.

We knew there would be intense opposition from Republicans but didn’t anticipate how that would escalate into this harsh and extreme rhetoric, behavior and imagery. Who really expected to see Barack’s photo decorated with swastikas, hammers and sickles?

We’ve adjusted; and now accept the fact that our opponents have chosen to go all out to disparage, undermine and destroy this president and his administration.

There are certainly enough glib explanations about why the Right is so adroit at mounting a united front: 
  1. They tap into genuine frustration
  2. They appeal to authoritarian temperaments
  3. They arouse anger and manipulate events
  4. They flummox liberals with incisive sound bites
  5. They trap Democrats mired in their (our) own contradictions 
Some Republicans will argue that their unified and strident antagonism toward Obama and the Democrats wasn’t predetermined, but was driven by the new President’s agenda. Others will insist that they’re not doing anything to Barack that the Democrats didn’t do (or at least tried to do) to bring down their guy, Bush. It’s pay-back time, I suppose. And then, of course, there’s a legitimate case to be made that it’s the noble role of the opposition to defeat the party in power.

Even so, isn’t it just a little sad that the most palpable and memorable expression of national unity over Obama was on election night, 2008 and it’s been downhill ever since?

But that’s the case and, frankly, I don’t want to hear over and over what Obama and the Dems have done wrong. I guarantee, however, that going forward every major decision and action by this President will provoke outraged hysteria from his right, left and middle.

How he and we handle that will be pivotal.

Obama and the Democrats had also better be smart and lucky.

At a minimum, smart enough to pass meaningful health reform and lucky enough to preside over a labor market recovery starting early next year and at full steam by the summer.

That might put Democrats in decent shape for the November, 2010 midterm election which - like it or not - will be seen as a vote of confidence on Obama and his party.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Obama - What's Wrong with You?

There’s a lot of fascinating and brilliant criticism of the President coming from observers who earnestly wanted Obama to succeed but are now just about certain that he’s not going to.

This piece by Lee Siegel (no relation), charging the Prez with an “American Idol style of governing” is very persuasive and fun to read.

So is Chris Hedges’ column of a few of months ago titled “Nader was Right."

But what do you do when people whose opinion and intellect you respect make you feel silly and unsophisticated because you’re determined to stay loyal to Obama and believe he’s our best bet to get America back on track?

You’re almost tempted to attribute something sinister to those “thought-leaders” on the intellectual left; that their impulse for critical analysis, for example, is really a need to sabotage their (and my) ideals and values.

I know I don’t get a lot of support for that kind of speculation, but here’s my dilemma:

I’m already emotionally drained from fighting off attacks from the right. I barely have enough stamina to push against both sides at once.

If necessary, I’ll just retreat to that familiar place: Where Democrats go to resign ourselves to - and defend - what we have. Did I hear you say Bill Clinton?

I’m not suggesting that anyone on what might be called “our side” repress their urge to blast Obama. But I just hope that in our need to tell each other what’s wrong with ourselves, we don’t hand the ball back to the Republicans and waste another chance to make the country better.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Are Republicans Outsmarting Obama?

Sure seems like it.

They certainly know what it means to be the political party in opposition.

They’re tough and ruthless and they use their authoritarian temperament as an advantage.

Obama’s early attempts at conciliation made him look weak rather than gracious.

On health care, the Republicans have created a no-lose scenario: they either kill the bill or weaken it to the point where it won’t work.

They’re aiming to do the same thing on global warming.

On financial reform, they get away with blaming the Democrats for bailing out Wall Street while - at the same time - making sure that meaningful reform is blocked.

They’re the party that can mobilize constituent anger and get media attention. Their search and destroy missions against ACORN and Van Jones have been well executed.

Now they seem to be successful in swaying independents in their direction.

Was 2008 a fluke?

Did we win only because of the ineffectual George Bush and the chaotic McCain / Palin ticket? Will an articulate conservative - Tim Pawlenty, Eric Canter - wipe out Obama in 2012 after Republican Congressional gains in 2010?


Are these just the early rounds, the chance for Obama and the Democrats to absorb some punishment before coming on strong and steady and winning back public confidence?

There’s a great deal of anxiety, doubt and disappointment on our side right now. Our opponents know this and they know how to exploit it.

Bullies always depend on exposing their victim’s weakness and forcing a sense of helplessness.

This is not the time, fellow Democrats, to go limp.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

List of Republicans Voting to End Filibuster of David Hamilton’s Appointment

Ten Republicans joined 58 Democrats and two independents on the cloture motion to allow David Hamilton's nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit go to the Senate floor for a vote:

Lamar Alexander (R - TN)
Saxby Chambliss (R - GA)
Susan Collins (R - ME)
John Cornyn (R - TX)
Judd Gregg (R - NH)
Orrin Hatch (R- UT)
Richard Lugar (R - IN)
Lisa Murkowski (R - AK)
Olympia Snowe (R - ME)
John Thune (R - SD)

Twenty-nine Republicans voted to sustain the filibuster with one Republican not voting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Obama and Afghanistan - It’s Hard to Say No to the Generals

Remember William Westmoreland, the pugnacious general who commanded American troops in Vietnam?

Those of us from the Vietnam War protest era had a perfect foil: a hard core, right wing, dissident-hating stoic, Westmoreland personified what the new left hated about the military.

That imagery began to change considerably when Colin Powell became chairman of the Joint Chiefs and General Norman Schwarzkoph commanded Gulf War troops under Bush I in 1991.

The 21st Century style of military leadership is even more formidable.

Watch current Joint Chief Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen field questions and you’ll see a smooth, thoughtful and articulate military advisor. (Check out the Admiral’s Facebook page).

CENTCOM Commander General David Patraeus, who earned his PhD from Princeton in 1987, exemplifies the military intellectual.

The arguments President Obama is hearing from top brass at the Pentagon about an Afghanistan surge are not jingoistic and fear-based but sophisticated, geo-political analysis.

Saying no to the military’s intellectual firepower will not be easy.

(In addition, the stature and standing of the military rank and file is higher than it’s been since World War II).

Afghanistan war strategy should not be decided based on the charisma or IQ of military leaders. But this current batch of generals - and the admiral - is certainly quite capable of making a very compelling case.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

“Creation Care” – God’s Voice on Global Warming

Along with the usual suspects, the coalition supporting Congressional action on global warming includes a broad selection of religious organizations - most interesting are evangelical groups which promote the idea of “Creation Care” which seeks to

… educate, inspire, and mobilize Christians in their effort to care for God’s creation, to be faithful stewards of God’s provision, and to advocate for actions and policies that honor God and protect the a desire to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

Exactly the kind of Christian values-driven sentiment which can blunt republican opposition to environmental legislation.

A global warming bill passed the House in June and the Senate Environmental Committee recently approved a measure. But don’t expect passage anytime soon.

Here are some of the religious groups building pro-environment constituencies:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Why Aren't We Doing Better? - A List for Democrats

So why can’t a Democratic White House and a Democratic Congress bring about the kind of change we want?

Here’s what we’ve been hearing:
  • Obama’s not very progressive
  • The Democrats have no guts
  • Corporate and financial interests control Congress
  • The Republicans tricked us again
  • It’s a conservative country
  • Americans are dumb
  • The Bush deficit
  • The media can’t cover complex issues
  • It’s too late to liberalize this nation
  • It’s Nixon’s and Reagan’s fault
  • Religious people are manipulated
  • The working class doesn’t vote
  • Clinton damaged the presidency
  • Iraq and Afghanistan burn up the budget
  • Larry Summers

 Here are a few reasons to be hopeful:

  • Obama is 48 and getting smarter
  • Right wing Republicans will devour their party
  • Henry Waxman
  • Unemployment has bottomed out
  • Health reform will pass
  • Young voters lean toward tolerance
  • American’s aren’t so dumb
  • The EPA is doing its job again
  • Democrats want to win
  • Progressives know how to organize

Who knows what will be. My advice is to stay positive, enjoy the ride and try to remember what it was like just a few years ago. Need any help...?:
  • Dick Cheney
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • John Ashcroft
  • Gale Norton
  • John Roberts
  • Tom Delay

Friday, November 6, 2009

The President’s “Statement” Doesn’t Connect

I was discouraged this morning when I caught the President’s remarks from the Rose Garden about the Fort Hood shooting and persistently high unemployment. Obama looked more like a White House staffer reading a statement than a President connecting with Americans over their grief and pain.

Don’t read to us. Talk to us in your own words. Feel it and mean it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

U.S. Interior Department’s Clean Energy Forum

Watch a few minutes of C-SPAN’s coverage of the Interior Department’s Clean Energy Forum held November 2, and you’ll see something both ordinary and extraordinary:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, his Deputy, Assistant Secretaries, Directors and Commissioners presenting an intelligent and persuasive case for the Obama Administration’s Clean Energy Strategy.

Contrast this group of professionals with the cast of characters at the highest levels of the Interior Department during the Bush era.

Remember Gale Norton, who ran the Department for six years, using her office to turn federal land and resources over to her friends in the mining, timber, oil, gas and coal industries. Norton is now under investigation for conflict of interest related to oil shale leases in Colorado. She was followed as secretary by former Idaho Republican Governor Dick Kempthorne, known for his animosity toward open space in the West.

Disillusioned Democrats, frustrated by stalled legislation in Congress and a cautious White House, should keep in mind that this administration is slowly and steadily shifting the internal practices and policies of federal departments, agencies and commissions.

This takes time. While it’s not exactly a “purge,” populating the federal bureaucracy with appointees who believe in the mission of government is an enormous asset for environmentalists, unions, consumer advocates and progressive organizations from A to Z.